Byron Simon, a junior at Lakewood Ranch High School, has always been passionate about fashion.
For years, he’s wanted to start his own fashion line of clothing, but he thought it had to be elegant dresses and gowns and he knew he didn’t have the finances for it.
While sitting in a hotel during the FFA state convention in 2022, he was reminded that Louis Vuitton didn’t start by making handbags that cost thousands of dollars. He made "streamer trunks" an early day form of luggage.
Simon returned to his hotel room, grabbed a notepad from the nightstand drawer and made the first design for his clothing brand, Southernly Simon Apparel.
The design consisted of the lyrics “Save a horse, ride a cowboy,” from the song of the same name by Big & Rich.
On July 14, Simon launched his sophomore collection “A Battle with Myself,” which he created as a high school sophomore. It includes a selection of T-shirts, hoodies and sweatpants.
His clothing brand is an opportunity for him to combine his passion for fashion with his desire to initiate conversations regarding mental health and other topics.
Simon struggled with his mental health his freshman year of high school as he worked through "imposter syndrome," which is the inability to believe one's achievements are deserved.
“I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be, and I felt like I was under a lot of scrutiny,” he said. “I felt like a lot of people were always watching my moves, and there was a lot of pressure to be perfect. It just kind of caused me to crack under pressure, and eventually, I kind of had a break where I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ Luckily, I had a bunch of resources around me like my parents and friends who were phenomenal in my healing process.”
Simone realized he wasn’t the only one to have mental health concerns, yet few people were openly talking about what they were facing.
“I realized there were a lot of topics that needed to be opened up for discussion, and it wasn’t being opened up,” Simon said. “I realized I was done waiting for change, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Although mental health is his biggest passion, Simon said his clothing line is an opportunity for him to start conversations on gun violence, health, women’s rights and more.
He hopes his clothing promotes awareness on topics and encourages people to embrace who they are and their differences. He wants people to feel heard.
“I’ve been on that side of not being heard, not feeling like there was someone who understood me,” he said. “I’ve tried to put myself into a box of who I am and to try to fit into this cookie cutter society we have now. I feel like just having someone who understands you, that can see you, make you feel heard and be represented in the public eye is such a great feeling.”
The “Battle with Myself” collection features designs that promote mental health awareness and include phrases such as “Together we stand as one” and “Some scars are on the inside.”
“It’s a collection that depicts the daily struggles a person can go through,” Simon said. “It talks about mental health, losing people you’re close with, being close with people, loving someone, finding yourself again after you lose someone.”
Simon’s inspiration for the designs come from how he’s feeling on any given day.
“I’ll be having a bad day and then I can see my designs reflect that. It just kind of goes hand in hand,” he said. “It gives me a healthy way to cope with how I feel that day, and it also gives people a healthy way to see it’s normal to feel these things.”
Creating designs for Southernly Simon Apparel has been a continual opportunity for Simon to address his own mental health.
“I definitely have these days where I don’t feel myself and I feel disconnected from who I am,” he said. “I think that some days, it just becomes too much. Having this very healthy coping mechanism to be able to get my feelings out is a very good thing to have. It means the world to me to have that kind of escape. It’s kind of like when people write out their feelings or journal them. I just draw them out and then release them out to the world for other people.”
Any time Simon sees someone wearing one of his designs, he said it’s an “insane feeling.”
“It’s insane that I created something on a computer in my bedroom that people are now wearing out in public and they love it,” he said.
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.